Sercan Esen

The role of AI in bridging safety work and safety of work

April 27, 2023
Table of contents


At Intenseye, our journey began with a simple observation. As I visited over 50 flagship manufacturing facilities across various industries, I met exceptional EHS teams working tirelessly to ensure workplace safety. Despite having thousands of frontline employees, there were only a few safety team members with limited resources. Their day-to-day jobs revolved around covering safety work, leaving them little time to focus on leading indicators and the safety of work.

I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the abundance of cutting-edge technologies, such as AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles), flying drones, automated robots, and advanced monitoring systems, being used to increase production efficiency and the seemingly outdated approach to workplace safety that primarily relied on lagging indicators with pen and paper mostly. This observation led us to question why the same technological advancements that were revolutionizing other aspects of manufacturing hadn’t yet been applied to workplace safety. This realization became the foundation of the Intenseye idea, aiming to bridge the gap between safety work and the safety of work by leveraging cutting-edge AI technology.

A brief history of safety approaches

Workplace safety has come a long way since the early 20th century when basic safety regulations were first established. As industries evolved and workplaces became more complex, so did the focus on employee health and safety. Traditional approaches to workplace safety, often referred to as “safety work,” have laid the groundwork for modern practices. However, they have not kept up with the rapid advancements in technology and the changing needs of today’s workplaces. Intenseye, a leading AI software company, steps in to connect safety work and the safety of work, offering innovative solutions for modern workplace safety challenges.

Safety work started with the introduction of labor laws and regulations to protect workers from hazardous conditions in the early 20th century. Over time, as industries evolved and workplaces became more complex, new safety standards and guidelines were established. Companies began adopting a more proactive approach to safety, focusing on hazard identification, risk assessment, and control measures.

Despite these advancements, traditional incumbent software platforms have primarily focused on managing and recording safety work, rather than improving the safety of work itself. These platforms have not adequately addressed the need for real-time hazard identification and mitigation, often relying on lagging indicators such as incident reports and injury rates rather than leading indicators that provide a more proactive approach to safety. Furthermore, they usually do not offer sufficient guidance on which measures are most effective in particular sites or cultures, nor do they provide insights on systemic deficiencies that can elevate the risk of future incidents. But before discussing how AI can accelerate the transition from 'safety work' to 'safety of work', let's briefly introduce the concepts of safety work and safety of work.

Safety Work

Safety work refers to various activities within organizations that primarily focus on managing safety. According to Provan et al. (2020), safety work involves purposeful efforts to create, maintain, or disrupt aspects of an organization to improve safety. These activities include risk assessments, safety training, incident investigations and reports, and the development and implementation of safety policies and procedures. However, safety work can be perceived as less value-adding and peripheral to the primary objectives of the organization and sometimes conflicts with the safety of work, which is more focused on preventing injuries and promoting value-adding activities.

Safety of Work

In contrast, the safety of work is about preventing injury and creating a safe work environment. It focuses on goal-directed behavior and the continuous improvement of safety performance. Safety work has the potential to contribute to the safety of work, however, safety of work, by definition, aims to directly achieve the primary purpose of the organization.” (Provan et al., 2020).

By focusing more on proactive safety risk reduction, organizations can shift their safety management approach from reactive to proactive, identifying and addressing hazards before they lead to incidents. This shift enables the safety of work to be more closely aligned with the overall goals of the organization, and it is where next-generation technology solutions come into play.

How AI can bridge the gap

EHS professionals are often caught between completing administrative tasks related to safety work and focusing on more value-adding activities that ensure the safety of work. But AI can accelerate a shift from safety work to safety of work to address this dilemma.

Providing 24/7 real-time leading safety indicators:
Lagging indicators have long been the foundation of safety work, providing valuable information on past safety performance. However, their retrospective nature makes them less effective in driving proactive safety measures and improvements. Conversely, leading indicators offer real-time insights and a forward-looking perspective on safety, allowing organizations to take a more proactive approach to managing the safety of work. But computer vision AI can provide real-time data-based analytics to quantify how work is performed at the sharp end. This helps to move away from lagging indicators, which do not represent the current reality in the field, to more leading indicators.

As David Provan explains, safety professionals usually find it difficult to influence leaders to perform proactive safety leadership activities. Shifting the mindset from relying on lagging indicators to embracing leading indicators can be challenging, as it requires organizations to adopt a proactive approach and transform their existing safety culture. One memorable experience during the early days of Intenseye involved a conversation with an EHS team considering deploying our solution. We had gathered over 10 facility leaders to evaluate Intenseye, and one of these facilities was considered a flagship facility. This particular facility had identified machine-man interactions as their top risk hazard. Although they had the most engineering controls in place, they still had the highest incident rate among the company’s portfolio. They had weighted mattresses to control confined space entry, light curtains to automatically trigger machine shutdown, and light controls to make machine operations or stops visible for all frontline teams.

Some EHS team members were skeptical that Intenseye could be an effective tool on top of these controls. However, we managed to convince them to deploy Intenseye in their facility and see the data we might uncover. The results were eye-opening: within the first 24 hours, during a night shift, Intenseye detected over 100 critical unsafe acts and behaviors. Employees were climbing to restricted heights, entering confined spaces, and even calling their teammates to open up machines to fix them on the fly.

Today, this customer has deployed Intenseye in all of their facilities and production lines across 10 locations. They have integrated our real-time alerts to stop production lines when a critical unsafe act occurs. EHS management now relies on our leading indicator data to prioritize their initiatives and set new targets, showcasing the power of focusing on the safety of work and the value of real-time, data-driven insights.

Building a positive & shared safety culture: It is crucial for organizations to emphasize the significance of safety and demonstrate their commitment to it in order to establish a culture where safety is given utmost priority in every aspect of their operations. However, creating such an environment can be challenging due to the complex social dynamics and conflicting demands within organizations. This effort may be misunderstood as insincere and out of touch with reality due to the distance between the demonstrated safety work and safety as practiced. (Provan et al. 2020)

Computer vision AI can demonstrate the impact of measures taken in real-time, providing further guidance on which measures work best in which sites / cultures and insights on systemic deficiencies which increase the risk of the next incident. These real time insights also generate an alignment on future safety strategies and ownership from both frontline teams and management due to its objectivity. The data-driven approach helps close the gap between the work as imagined and work as done as well as the gap between frontline teams and management.

One of our clients' EHS directors described Intenseye as the voice of the frontline. This is because Intenseye's real-time data analysis provides frontline workers with a platform to share their experiences and contribute to the decision-making process. By giving workers a voice, Intenseye helps to create a more inclusive and collaborative work environment that benefits everyone involved.Intenseye empowers them to share their experiences and insights with management, enabling them to make better-informed decisions. This not only increases the level of trust between workers and management but also creates a culture of shared responsibility and accountability.

Empowering EHS teams: Safety professionals invest a significant amount of time and effort in developing and implementing safety processes, ensure and verify compliance. They also should perform the necessary safety practices to ensure a safe and healthy work environment. This includes conducting regular safety inspections, identifying and reporting potential hazards, and providing training and education for employees on safety best practices. All of these responsibilities require a high level of expertise and dedication, as well as the ability to adapt to changing safety requirements and technologies.

Computer vision AI has the potential to revolutionize the way safety work is conducted by automating and streamlining key processes. By leveraging this technology, EHS professionals can save significant time and resources, allowing them to focus on improving workplace safety while simultaneously managing risk and driving value.

One of the key benefits of computer vision AI is the ability to track KPIs in real-time, providing instant feedback on performance and enabling proactive decision-making. AI can also engage frontline teams more effectively through the use of visual data, which can improve their understanding of critical safety information. Moreover, AI can act as a "source of truth" for EHS teams by providing accurate and reliable data that can be leveraged to gain leadership support, secure the resources needed to drive continuous improvement, and quantify the impact in real-time, while gathering data in a more efficient and automated manner. This way, AI can engage all stakeholders in a more effective and ethical way.

Introducing Intenseye: Shaping the future of safety management

Next-generation technology solutions have significantly improved the way organizations approach safety management. By leveraging AI, machine learning, and advanced data analytics, these solutions enable real-time leading indicator data and facilitate a proactive approach to safety management. This shift in safety management is driving the evolution of safety work, with a stronger focus on the safety of work. Intenseye is at the forefront of this shift, offering a cutting-edge AI-powered platform that seamlessly integrates with existing facility cameras to provide real-time insights into workplace safety. Our solution empowers EHS leaders to proactively identify and address hidden hazards, thereby enhancing the safety of work and potentially saving lives.

In conclusion, understanding the distinction between safety work and the safety of work is crucial for recognizing the evolution of safety management practices. Next-generation technology solutions, such as Intenseye’s AI-powered platform, are enhancing the industry by enabling real-time leading indicator data and a proactive approach to safety management. By bridging the gap between safety work and the safety of work, these solutions are transforming workplace safety culture and improving the well-being of employees across various industries and regions.

Reference: Provan, D. J., Rae, A. J., & Dekker, S. W. A. (2020). An ethnography of the safety professional’s dilemma: Safety work or the safety of work? Safety Science, Volume 117, August 2019, Pages 276-289.